Pavlova was born prematurely on February 12 (NS; January 31 OS) 1881, in Ligovo, a suburb (now neighborhood) of Saint Petersburg, then the capital of the Russian Empire. Her mother was a laundress named Lyubov Feodorovna. The identity of her father has been open to debate. She later claimed her father (who was of possible Jewish origin) had died when she was two years old.Some sources, including The Saint Petersburg Gazette, have claimed that her illegitimate father was the banker Lazar Polyakov. Her mother's second husband, Matvey Pavlov, is believed to have adopted her at the age of three, by which she acquired his last name.
Pavlova's passion for the art of ballet was ignited when her mother took her to a performance of Marius Petipa's original production ofThe Sleeping Beauty at the Imperial Maryinsky Theater. The lavish spectacle made an impression on the young Pavlova, and at the age of eight she was taken by her mother to audition for the renowned Imperial Ballet School. Because of her age, and what was considered to be a "sickly" appearance, she was not chosen, but in 1891 she was finally accepted, at the age of 10. She appeared for the firsttime on stage in Marius Petipa's Un conte de fées (A Fairy Tale), which the ballet master staged for the students of the school.
The young Pavlova's years of training were difficult, as classical ballet did not come easily to her. Her severely arched feet, thin ankles, and long limbs clashed with the small and compact body in favor for the ballerina at the time. Her fellow students taunted herwith such nicknames as The broom and La petite sauvage (The little savage). Undeterred, Pavlova trained to improve her technique. She took extra lessons from the noted teachers of the day — Christian Johansson, Pavel Gerdt, Nikolai Legat and more especially from Enrico Cecchetti, considered the greatest ballet virtuoso of the time and founder of the Cecchetti method, a very influential ballettechnique used up to this day. In 1898 she entered the classe de perfection of Ekaterina Vazem, former Prima ballerina of the Saint Petersburg Imperial Theatres.
During her final year at the Imperial Ballet School, she performed many roles with the principal company. She graduated in 1899 at age 18, being allowed to enter the Imperial Ballet a rank ahead of corps de ballet as a coryphée. She made herofficial début at the Mariinsky Theatre in Pavel Gerdt's Les Dryades prétendues (The False Dryads). Her performance drew praise from the critics, particularly the great critic and historian Nikolai Bezobrazov.
Photographic postcard of Anna Pavlova as the Princess Aspicia in the Petipa/Pugni The Pharaoh's Daughter, Saint Petersburg, circa 1910
Anna Pavlova in the Fokine/Saint-Saëns The DyingSwan, Saint Petersburg, 1905
Аnna Pavlova costumed for the Pandéros in the Petipa/Glazunov Raymonda, Saint Petersburg, 1910
Anna Pavlova as Lise in the Pas de ruban from the Petipa/Ivanov/Hertel La Fille Mal Gardée. Saint Petersburg, 1912.
At the height of Petipa's strict academicism, the public was taken aback by Pavlova's style, which was a combination of an amazing dance giftthat paid little heed to academic rules; she frequently performed with bent knees, bad turnout, misplaced port de bras and incorrectly placed tours. Such a style in many ways harked back to the time of the romantic ballet and the great ballerinas of old.
Pavlova performed in various classical variations, pas de deux and pas de trois in such ballets as La Camargo, Le Roi Candaule, Marcobomba andThe Sleeping Beauty. Her enthusiasm often led her astray: once during a performance as the River Thames in Petipa's The Pharaoh's Daughter her energetic double pique turns led her to lose her balance, and she ended up falling in the prompter's box. Her weak ankles led to difficulty while performing as the fairy Candide in Petipa's The Sleeping Beauty, leading the ballerina to revise the fairy's...